While the colleges save millions of dollars by paying their contingent faculty little and denying them benefits, they also cut costs by denying them adequate offices and support. Though tenure-track faculty usually have private offices, adjuncts may be placed in separate buildings or in large rooms with dozens of others. Adjuncts often give these rooms nicknames, such as “the pit” or “the corral.”
In most cases, part-time offices are converted spaces, not deliberately designed to house faculty, and can be so cramped that the faculty often avoid going there because they can never have a private conversation with a student, let alone prepare for class in a quiet setting. One small office I used contained four large desks and five chairs. Often as many as eight professors signed up to use the office; there were sometimes three or four faculty holding office hours at the same time. Because of the noise and constriction, adjuncts often met with students on a bench outside the office or left a note that they would be holding office hours somewhere else on campus.
Green River Community College in Washington recently opened two brand new buildings, with plush, private offices for each full-timer, but the center of each building was filled with cubicles to be shared by the part-timers on a first-come, first-served basis. While the older buildings had plenty of shared, but private, offices for adjuncts, these were eliminated in the new buildings.
Although colleges proudly list tenure-stream professors in their annual catalogs, they very rarely list professors who teach off the tenure track.51 While quarterly college course schedules routinely list the names of tenure-track professors next to the courses they will teach, courses taught by adjunct professors often carry only the word “staff” or “TBA” (To Be Announced).
Campus phone and e-mail directories often leave out contact information for adjunct faculty, who often cannot be found on campus, either because they do not have an office, or they share an office with many other adjuncts. I have called a college campus to speak with a fellow adjunct only to be told by the confident operator that no such person works there.
Virtually everyone agrees that all professors should be protected by academic freedom. Colleges, unions, and even accreditors all state that college professors need and deserve the right to say and think what they believe is the truth without fear of discipline, retaliation, or job loss.
In their famous 1940 “Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure,” the American Association of University Professors states that academic freedom has three parts.52 (1) “Teachers are entitled to full freedom in research and in the publication of the results”; (2) “Teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject”; and (3) “When they speak or write as citizens, they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline.”53
The AAUP makes clear that academic freedom applies to virtually anyone who teaches in a college or university: “Both the protection of academic freedom and the requirement of academic responsibility apply not only to the full-time probationary and the tenured teacher, but also to all others, such as part-time faculty and teaching assistants, who exercise teaching responsibility.”54
How is academic freedom supposed to be protected? The AAUP’s answer is tenure: “Tenure is a means to certain ends, specifically: (1) freedom of teaching and research and of extramural activities, and (2) a sufficient degree of economic security to make the profession attractive to men and women of ability. Freedom and economic security, hence, tenure, are indispensable to the success of an institution in fulfilling its obligations to its students and to society.”55
In The Last Professors, Frank Donoghue has raised several important questions about the AAUP’s position on tenure: “Why do only the tenured enjoy the full protection of academic freedom? What about the legion of adjuncts and the graduate teaching assistants, not to mention professors on the tenure track, but not yet tenured?”56
Donoghue points out that the AAUP’s original “General Declaration of Principles” of 1915 was far broader and more radical than the 1940 “Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure.” Perhaps to make it more palatable to colleges, the latter document was in fact coauthored with the Association of American Colleges, which was run by the administrators of undergraduate colleges. The latter document, currently in force, narrowed both the meaning and application of academic freedom.
Prior to 1940, college professors did not have tenure per se, though “the norm throughout the country was presumptive tenure—the annual contracts at most universities were automatically renewed by custom, not rule.”57 The AAUP’s original 1915 “General Declaration” argued for an autonomy for all college teachers similar to that of federal court justices. It stated that teacher-student relations should be analogous to attorney-client relations, and that classroom lectures were not meant for the public and should not be published without the express permission of the professor. It also said that speeches outside the classroom should not be limited to the teacher’s field of specialization.58
The AAUP’s 1940 “Statement of Principles” ties the role of professors to their colleges and limits their speech to their fields of specialization, both on and off campus. This famous document, currently in force, contains an unacknowledged contradiction that lies at the heart of the current two-track system: while it says that academic freedom should apply to all professors, it divides the faculty between those who must undergo a probation period of seven years on the tenure track and those who either (1) pass the review and earn tenure or else (2) fail the review and must leave the university entirely.
Donoghue notes that the 1940 statement “adds the baffling principle that ‘During the probationary period a teacher should have the academic freedom that all other members of the faculty have.’ If, indeed, probationary faculty have that freedom from recrimination, then what additional freedom do they gain by being tenured. What is the purpose of tenure?”59
The AAUP has been ineffective in defending academic freedom even in the best of times. But in the worst of times, it has been abysmal, and its defense of academic freedom for adjuncts—hampered by a lack of contractual protections, to be sure—has been rare.
For years, I have heard adjuncts allege that the AAUP routinely refuses to investigate serious and blatant complaints of academic freedom. It refused a case I brought to it in the mid-1990s. And despite my personal plea when I served on its national Committee on Contingent Faculty, it turned down two important and well-documented adjunct cases with national significance. It would not even investigate them.
On February 13, 2005, Terry Knudsen and I published “Colleges Exploiting Part-Time Professors” in the Sunday edition of the Spokane, Washington, daily newspaper, the Spokesman-Review.60 While colleges are often proud to have themselves identified with professors who enter the public arena, I had tried to refrain from listing the colleges where I taught. I was concerned that because I was an adjunct criticizing the two-year college system, someone at my college might take offense and retaliate against me. But when the editor asked us to identify our colleges, we relented and the college names appeared under ours in the article.
In “Teacher Says She Lost Job for Speaking Out,” reporter Shawn Vestal wrote: “Knudsen says her troubles began last February, when she and Hoeller published an op-ed in The Spokesman-Review saying adjuncts ‘may very well be the state’s most mistreated and exploited employees’ and calling the community college system a ‘state-run feudal system.’ . . . Soon thereafter, she says, she was called into her dean’s office [in actuality, her department chair’s office], where she was told that her comments had offended full-time faculty members and that she’d lost support.”61
According to Terry, the chair of her department “chilled” her by saying, “There are limits and consequences to free speech. I think you should leave SCC [Spokane Community College].”62 Within hours of this meeting, college administrators claimed that Terry, who had an unblemished teaching record of seventeen years and who had recently been awarded the title of “associate faculty,” had violated several college policies and, in a series of steps, removed her senior status and ceased to offer her any further classes.
Terry has not taught in the Spokane Community College system since 2005. The college claims “that the decision not to hire her back had nothing to do with her political speech or activity.”63
I referred Terry’s case to Committee A of the AAUP, in the hopes that it would agree that this was a significant case of the violation of the AAUP’s principles of academic freedom. Here was a long-term adjunct, who had documented every step of the case, claiming that she had been fired because of an opinion article that she had published in the local newspaper.
Yet when I called the national headquarters and talked to the staff person who was looking into her case, I found that he had gotten nearly all the facts of the case wrong. Terry told me that in her conversations with him she had gotten the distinct feeling he was looking for any excuse not to investigate any further.
I appealed directly to both Ernest Benjamin, the AAUP’s executive director, and Cary Nelson, its president, to have the national AAUP conduct a full-scale investigation of her case, even resending all of the documentation myself. The AAUP refused to do so. To this day, Terry has never received any explanation as to why.
In 2009, the AAUP issued a report entitled Conversion of Appointments to the Tenure Track, in which it states that “the best practice for institutions of all types is to convert the status of faculty serving contingently to eligible for tenure with only minor changes in job description” (italics added).64 It’s important to underscore that the AAUP’s official policy has not come out in favor of tenure for contingent faculty; rather, it has only come out in favor of converting some contingent faculty to tenure-track jobs. These faculty will then have to serve a lengthy probationary period, perhaps as long as seven years, with dubious protection of their academic freedom during this period, and then they may earn tenure—or they may lose their jobs, even after decades of excellent teaching.
In 2010, AAUP president Cary Nelson published an article entitled “Solidarity vs. Contingency” in which he stated:
In its new policy paper—“Tenure and Tenure-Intensive Appointments”— the AAUP recommends that all long-term contingent faculty members be granted tenure. Since tenure can be awarded to both part-time and full-time faculty members—a person could have tenure at less than full-time percentage appointment—the AAUP’s proposal carries no necessary cost.65